DAWN - Editorial; December 25, 2005

25 Dec 2005


Creeping fanaticism

GREATER notice needs to be taken in the region of the creeping inroads being made by fanaticism in Bangladesh. Some recent developments there have an eerie resemblance to events in Pakistan. On Friday, police in Dhaka thwarted a move by an organization called the Khatm-i-Nabuwat to march on an Ahmadi mosque. The organization has been mounting pressure for the Ahmadi community to be declared as non-Muslim — a demand raised in Pakistan in the ’70s that was ultimately accepted by the then government of Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. That decision was seen as marking a major victory for the religious parties, which have been increasing their influence in politics ever since, finding a great patron in Ziaul Haq in the post-Bhutto period. Something like that may be happening now in Bangladesh, where the government of Begum Khaleda Zia has a religious party, the Jamaat-i-Islami, as one of its coalition partners and, if not exactly appeasing extremism, feels politically inhibited in confronting it headlong. Many shadowy groups have emerged like the Jamaatul Mujahideen and the Harkatul Jihad that openly profess their faith in a militant form of Islam. The former was blamed for a startlingly synchronized wave of bomb attacks across Bangladesh in August and, last month, for deadlier suicide bombings that killed at least 10 people. There are other manifestations of revivalism — again paralleling similar trends in Pakistan — such as the patronization of madressahs and reports of ostensibly charitable organizations providing training to militants.

The problem governments in Muslim countries face, even where they might believe in pluralism, is that they are often afraid and unwilling to take actions that the orthodox would project as being anti-religion. Electoral compulsions take their own toll in terms of secular values, with liberal parties forced to make alliances with conservative forces. The principle of give them an inch and they will take an ell then comes into play: one concession leads to another. This has happened in Pakistan and may well be happening in Bangladesh (Indonesia in that part of the world is already coping with extremism). The chronic tussle between the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Awami League has driven both to shoddier compromises, and both have failed to formulate a coherent strategy to tackle economic, social and political issues that breed discontent and make it easier for fringe elements to gain support.

Friday’s frenzied demonstrations in Dhaka should be treated as a wake-up call by politicians in that country, although such advice coming from Pakistan will inevitably be seen as gratuitous in view of the unholy mess here. But Bangla society has a long tradition of tolerance and religious harmony, and it would be tragic for the entire region if this rich fabric steeped in cultural diversity was damaged. The slide towards an obscurantist religious point of view should be stoutly resisted. There are other anxieties: the rise of extremism in Bangladesh may create a backlash in West Bengal, which has a large Muslim population. Communist rule there has ensured harmonious inter-religious relations that could be disturbed if Hindu revivalist parties seek to take advantage of the situation. Everyone interested in the evolution of democratic politics in South Asia should be concerned at what is happening in large swathes of the region and lower down.

Seeking alien interference

IT is a cliché to say that Pakistanis do not learn from history. But on Friday the Alliance for the Restoration Democracy decided to appeal to “western democratic forces” to “stop” the Pakistan government from using force in Balochistan. That the government has thoroughly bungled the Balochistan situation goes without saying. Last winter, a military showdown with the militants in the Sui area was averted at the eleventh hour, and this winter Kohlu is witnessing army action. The government has not yet bothered to discuss the Kohlu affair in the National Assembly, and the recommendations of the Mushahid Hussain committee report have not been implemented. As for the committee headed by Senator Wasim Sajjad, one does not know where it is hibernating. For all these reasons, the people feel rightly agitated over the simmering crisis in that troubled province. But does the solution lie in appeals to foreigners? “Western democratic forces” is an all-encompassing term that would seem to include not only human rights’ organizations and the western media but also western governments. Must the ARD look to these entities for help?

Unfortunately, this is not an aberration. Way back in the ’70s, opposition leaders visited foreign embassies in droves to seek help against Mr Bhutto’s undemocratic policies, and during the PNA movement both the government and the opposition agreed to let the Saudi ambassador mediate between the two. During the political era (1988-99), Mr Nawaz Sharif and Ms Benazir Bhutto never considered it beneath their dignity to visit Washington seeking a regime change in Islamabad, and within the country both of them, besides religious parties, begged army chiefs to “do their duty” and remove the democratically elected government of the rival. Of course, the army chiefs never hesitated to oblige. But after “doing their duty” they chose to perform what has become their other duty — ruling the country for a decade or more. Let the ARD politicians and all others note: the first principle of politics is to fight your own battle. Seeking foreign interference will only make things worse for the country.

Not another catastrophe

IT IS imperative that the government pay heed to the appeal made by the British NGO Oxfam for relief goods to be delivered soon to earthquake victims to avert a “second humanitarian catastrophe”. While no one can deny the efforts of the local and international community to get aid to the needy, the struggle is not over yet. The arrival of harsh winter in these areas means that thousands are at risk of hypothermia, pneumonia and other cold weather-related illnesses that can occur as a result of inadequate protection. Many are forced to live in non-winterized tents and do not have the necessary blankets and clothes to survive freezing temperatures. What makes matters worse — and therefore doubly urgent to address — is that heavy snow is likely to restrict peoples’ movement: of those wanting to descend to tent villages and rescue workers who need to get aid to those unable to leave their homes. Various newspaper reports in the past weeks speak of squalid conditions at relief camps and tent villages, highlighting the need for better coordinated efforts to streamline the process of rehabilitation. There is no sanitation at these places and the threat of epidemics is a very real one.

These issues are compounded by Oxfam’s concern that the international community has still not responded with urgently required resources and the UN’s inability to raise funds to bolster relief efforts in the quake-hit areas. The UN has received less than half of the funds it requested for relief and the funds for reconstruction too have yet to turn up. This is worrying. While the government should appeal for more international aid, it needs to arrange for the release of funds to address these issues or it runs the risk of increasing the death toll in the ravaged areas.

Reflections on two military presidents

By M.P. Bhandara

I COUNT Ayub Khan among the tragic heroes of Pakistan. Much good and some bad happened in his time. I count among his achievements the ‘green revolution’ in agriculture, laying the foundations of modern industry and banking, the Indus Water Treaty of 1962, the first major build-up of Pakistan’s armed forces — the consequences of which proved to be baneful later on.

His relationship with India, if not the best was neither the worst. It was a time when India looked up to Pakistan as a model of success; our currency was stronger than India’s. He exercised restraint during India’s Himalayan episode with China; a fact appreciated at the time but soon forgotten.

On Kashmir, it is my belief that Nehru did mean serious business in 1964 when he released Sheikh Abdullah from jail and sent him to Rawalpindi to talk to Ayub Khan. It was unfortunate that ‘this tryst with destiny’ died with Nehru’s death while Abdullah was here. Among other credits that must go to Ayub Khan was the settlement of the border with China and the opening up of China to the world via Pakistan. The vision of a Pindi-Beijing axis was his, and all the more creditable as it was in the teeth of US opposition, the main provider of arms and credits to this impoverished country.

Paradoxically, the decline and fall of Ayub Khan sprang from a moment of military success. An Indian intrusion in the Rann of Kutch, in early 1965, brought about an armed clash, in which Pakistani military had an upper hand. India reluctantly accepted Pakistan’s demand for international arbitration of the dispute. The arbitration was largely decided in Pakistan’s favour and the matter stands closed. A euphoria spread in Pakistan like a monsoon cloud that four Indian soldiers were the match of one Pakistani soldier. A hawkish cabal of prime movers headed by Z.A. Bhutto decided it was time to take on India, in Kashmir.

Operation Gibraltar was the strange name given to the plan. Carried away by the wild optimism of the times, Pakistani soldiers masqueriding as freedom fighters were to be sent to Indian held Kashmir, to commit acts of sabotage. The so-called freedom fighters would create a law and order situation — ‘light a prairie fire’ for Pakistan to move in. The plan was reckless and based on faulty intelligence. Ayub Khan was bitterly opposed to Operation Gibraltar — there is a wealth of evidence to this effect. He recognized Shastri’s warning at the time of the Rann of Katch that any intrusion in Kashmir would mean an all-out war which would not be confined to Kashmir.

What made Ayub Khan’s mind change was the spread of a lie. Regarding the acquisition of a landed properly by Ayub Khan. The lie was twisted by the hawkish cabal as evidence of Ayub Khan’s penchant for accumulating wealth and thus his negative attitude on Operation Gibraltar or any forward movement on Kashmir. The rumour spread like wild fire and believed to be true. Ayub Khan succumbed to the pressure of his dangerous friends.

Earlier to the events of the spring and summer of 1965 was the president’s election of 1964 — the electoral college consisted of 80,000 so-called basic democrats — elected local body functionaries. His opponent was the formidable Miss Fatima Jinnah. Ayub Khan won the election which was by and large fair as compared to later standards. But this election was hung on the cross of a limited franchise. In our political culture, it is the norm that no election defeat is accepted by the opposition. Thus Ayub Khan’s political base was eroded on what was perceived to be a limited franchise election clouded by unfounded allegations. In my assessment Ayub Khan could have won the election on an open franchise notwithstanding Miss Jinnah’s stellar quality.

The 1965 war was a draw. Bhutto, the prime mover of Operation Gibraltar, decided to turn tables on Ayub Khan by openly sulking at Tashkent. His contention was that the ceasefire prevented a victory for Pakistan. Bhutto’s sulk at Tashkent led to the parting of ways with Ayub Khan. His one-time hero and mentor became his enemy. When Foreign Secretary Aziz Ahmed woke up Bhutto at 2 a.m. during the last night in Tashkent before departure to announce the sudden death of Shastri became of heart failure with the words “the bastard is dead”, Bhutto’s laconic reply was “which one”?

An unforeseen consequence of the 1965 war was the deepening of East Pakistan’s alienation. East Pakistan was left undefended. India could have had a walk-over in the eastern wing were it not for China’s robust support and threat to activate the Indo-China disputed border. Ayub Khan’s statement that the battle of Pakistan was to be fought in West Pakistan further highlighted the alienation and vulnerability of East Pakistan.

Why did Ayub Khan’s house along with his constitution of 1962 collapse like the mud houses of Kashmir last October 8? The answer depends on how allergic one is to the colour Khaki. Certainly military rule is no answer to the running of a polity. But speaking objectively, our military rulers are more sinned against than sinning. Our past — at least since 1977 — indicates that it is the politicians who bring in the army.

Many senior politicians are a creation of army rule. In our inglorious civilian decade of the 1990s it must be recalled, three army chiefs were asked to step into the political quagmire to remove the leader in power at the behest of the opposition leader; their refusal is scarcely remembered. Mr Sharif and Ms Bhutto, since forgotten, branded each other security risks; General Musharraf coming to power is widely described as a military coup.

I was not a supporter of General Musharraf before 9/11, rather a dissenter; but since then he has taken some amazing U-turns, which are breathtaking in their audacity. Subject to some conditionalities — I will come to these later — I would like to see him continue after 2007.

To my mind, the first and foremost prerequisite for a ruler is to be clean; not only that, but that should be the general perception. I think General Musharraf does better on this score than any other ruler in recent memory. Courage is second. Giving up our obsession with the Taliban and a direction towards moderate Islam, a new perception of the Kashmir dispute in a realistic paradigm framework, creating better relations with India, and even talking to Israel, require courage of a rare order. He has navigated through some extremely tricky issues with a rare diligence. I refer to the A.Q. Khan episode.

The economy has done well. Pakistan is at relative peace with its neighbours to the East and West. The military imbalance of the ‘90s has been corrected. The best guarantee of peace in the subcontinent is a Pakistan strong economically and militarily. Last but not the least, separate electorates, which the minorities regarded as a form of apartheid, was done away with.

On the other side of the balance sheet, as a keeper of promises, he should have shed his uniform last year. Though personally he has a liberal frame of mind, he has failed to modify the Hadood, Blasphemy and anti-women laws inherited from the Zia regime. There is no permanent and independent election commission and the conduct of elections leaves much to be desired. The ISI influence in our internal politics continues and needs to be curbed. The consensus-building on big dams should have started at least three years back. But given Musharraf’s reputation as a great persuader, a broad consensus on big reservoirs is likely to be forged.

I had earlier mentioned conditionalities for continuance beyond 2007. I have only one. The election of 2007 must be an exemplar. To begin with, a truly and financially independent election commission, consisting not of part-time judges and retired appointees but truly respected non-political persons selected as commissioners in consultation with the opposition. Our present age-old system of voting is obsolete. Computerized voting as in India has proved to be a great success. We should plan its implementation now.

The election commission must have independent eyes and ears in each and every constituency during an election. NGOs, among others, can partly perform this task. We have for all intents and purposes a quasi presidential-parliamentary system for the past forty years. I see no reason why parliamentary democracy cannot flourish under a president elected on the basis of adult franchise.

No doubt, our purists will object to this French-type system. But remember under the 1973, Constitution, the all-powerful prime minister had more power than any president or prime minister in constitutional history. It should also be recalled that Z.A. Bhutto was most reluctant to give up being a civilian martial law president unless the office of a super-prime minister was guaranteed to him by the Constitution, which was done. However, the president’s election must be simultaneous to the election to the national and provincial assemblies to avoid any impression of an election by referendum.

Article 243 of the Constitution provides that the supreme command of the armed forces vests in the president. The Army Act should be modified to give real time content and meaning to the constitutional provision. The army chief must not be looked upon as the dauphin in waiting. All important moves in the armed forces must have the consent of the supreme commander — that is, president. Our historical experience is that there is no balance of power between the president and the prime minister. It happens to be between the prime minister and the army chief. This should not be so.

The balance of power should be between the government and the opposition, and the matter decided by an honest election. But, in each and every past political turmoil, the opposition chooses to hang itself to the coat-tails of the army chief. Herein lies the genesis of army rule.

Ayub Khan’s decline and fall can be attributed to an election which was too narrowly based, a war that was not won, and, above all, failing health. Musharraf’s rise to power should be based on internationally acceptable standards. If he wins, it will be well deserved; if he loses, it will be a victory in defeat.

The writer is an MNA. E-mail: murbr@isb.paknet.com.pk

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2005